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What Is Human?

Bizzlebin

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There are lots of attempts to pin down the definition of a human being. In general, most of the definitions tend to be either teleological or behavioral. For example, there are proposals that tie the identifying characteristics to farming, toolmaking, fire, burial, and thanksgiving. Obviously, these proposals have severe limitations, else I would not be asking the question: ants also farm, corvids also make and use tools, Australian hawks utilize fire, elephants practice burial, chimps engage in behavior that can only be easily described as thanksgiving, etc. Plus, there is the edge case of art, which Neanderthals had, but that kind of begs the question of whether Neanderthals are human (as per this thread: http://forums.orthodoxchristianity.net/threads/would-neanderthals-be-able-to-commune.47960/), not to mention the definition of art.

But more broadly, even if one of these proposals ends up having some validity, it would still be problematic because all of those characteristics are *potentials*, which can only be recognized ex post facto. For example, we can pick out a specific human and note that they have farmed in the past, but there is nothing that forces them to farm in the future—nor any guarantee that any other specific human has farmed, is farming, or will farm. So, I want to get away from these sorts of backwards-looking proposals entirely and look more at *ontological* definitions, definitions that apply to a human regardless of whether they are born or unborn, civilized or not, and so on. Does anyone have any leads here? This is a long-term (and a big) question, so I plan to keep checking back for *years*—keep the ideas coming in.

Thanks!
 

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We're made in the Image of God. Also, Christ.
 

Bizzlebin

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We're made in the Image of God. Also, Christ.
Undoubtedly. But can "image of God" be defined in a way that is not behavioral, teleological, and/or just plain circular? I think being specific to Jesus Christ is key, but how can that be done in an ontological way that does not, for example, privilege certain genetic code in such a manner that it veers to either the extreme of racism (eg, must be 1st-century Jewish) or anthropomorphism (eg, we share genes not just with other primates but with bacteria!)?
 

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There are many exclusive human universals across cultures, like music, decorative art, spoken grammatical languages, metaphysical ideologies (from shamanism to religion to liberal secularism), cooking, organised trade... Not to mention some basic logical operations that together form "human reason". Donald Brown wrote a great book called Human Universals, which unfortunately became notoriously associated to Steven Pinker's attempt to present his ideology as "just science", but it's still cool if you're into anthropology.

Neanderthals were definitely human, even though not all of these universals are verifiable among them. Here I say this as an Orthodox Christian who believes theistic evolution requires some form of non-gradual hominisation to remain Christian.
 

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I'm pretty sure I recognize "human" when I see it, but to try to nail it down to one specific and concise definition (other than, *perhaps* something to do with a particular genome and made in the image and likeness of God) is just way above my pay grade.
 

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Well, isn't the process of theosis not only union with God but also what it means to be(come) truly "human"?
 

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Neanderthals were definitely human, even though not all of these universals are verifiable among them. Here I say this as an Orthodox Christian who believes theistic evolution requires some form of non-gradual hominisation to remain Christian.
I think the universals you mentioned get into behaviors and teleologies, but hominization piqued my interest. By non-gradual hominization, do you mean something internal or external? That is, is there something purely intrinsic about being human, or does humanity require an extrinsic property (including a gift from God) that must be either acquired directly or via specific types of relationship (eg, an egg from one who is already human)?
 

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I think the universals you mentioned get into behaviors and teleologies, but hominization piqued my interest. By non-gradual hominization, do you mean something internal or external? That is, is there something purely intrinsic about being human, or does humanity require an extrinsic property (including a gift from God) that must be either acquired directly or via specific types of relationship (eg, an egg from one who is already human)?
There are intrinsic and extrinsic qualities of humanity (Genesis 2:7), and there can be no real (only perceived) grey areas between human and non-human. God knows who's human, at least.
 

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Well, isn't the process of theosis not only union with God but also what it means to be(come) truly "human"?
Theosis makes one acquire the likeness of God, but his image is inherent.
 

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how can that be done in an ontological way that does not, for example, privilege certain genetic code in such a manner that it veers to either the extreme of racism (eg, must be 1st-century Jewish) or anthropomorphism (eg, we share genes not just with other primates but with bacteria!)?
The DNA evidence rebuts rather than supports racism has long been the position of mainstream geneticists, e.g. (because it's handy on a near shelf) Stephen J. Gould decades ago in his book The Mismeasure of Man could already remark:

"A few outstanding traits of external appearance lead to our subjective judgment of important differences. But biologists have recently affirmed -as long suspected- that the overall genetic differences among human races are astonishingly small. Although frequencies for different states of a gene differ among races, we have found no 'race genes' -that is, states fixed in certain races and absent from all others... As Lewontin remarked (personal communication): if the holocaust comes and a small tribe deep in the New Guinea forests are the only survivors, almost all the genetic variation now expressed among the innumerable groups of the world population at large will be preserved." -ibid, p. 323

This POV has only solidified in the years since the completion of the human genome mapping project under the direction of Francis Collins.

Race as a social construct without biological meaning is the mainstream scientific consensus. Racial categories are weak proxies for genetic diversity and from a purely scientific point of view need to be phased out.
 
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Undoubtedly. But can "image of God" be defined
How to "define" God would be a problem here. Supposing human definitions circumscribe divine ontology is from an Orthodox and/or apophatic point of view somewhat of a fool's errand, no?

If definitions are of primary importance -Aristotelians and Hegelians would suppose so; empiricists and nominalists would of course demure- whether a "true essence" of a thing is discernible by pure reason alone seems to have suffered complete collapse in mainstream philosophy. St. Maximos affirmed the logoi of things could be discerned spiritually, which is something quite different from something like Thomism which relies on pure reason, so I think we can reject Aristotelian essentialism before having this discussion (unless we are Roman Catholic) and still not be nominalists (St. Maximos wasn't) but the path to proper discernment of logoi on that view isn't something properly regarded as having the potential to settle accurately on an internet forum, I think, albeit Scripture and tradition to the extent that it speaks can serve as a guide.
 
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xariskai

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Caveat re. remarks on definitions of the divine above, there is, of course, the via negativa in our tradition.

Returning to the OP, there is a mention of a search for "ontological definitions"[1] -can you explain further what is intended by this phrase?
________
[1]"So, I want to get away from these sorts of backwards-looking proposals entirely and look more at *ontological* definitions.
 

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Interesting topic. Technically, human nature is one. Meaning, every human person has physical qualities that are related too everyone else. Those qualities are generally not identified as individual because everyone has them.

Then you have a subset of qualities that make you identifiable physically. tall, short, blue eyes or brown. Skin pigmentation etc.

Then moving on, we have intellectual and physical, identifiable markers as well.
Some people through practice, determination and/or genetic accidents, perform better than others at certain tasks. Most, usually fall into the 95 percentiles. Meaning that most people can be equally as good at something, physical or intellectual, given the proper training. We do have standouts though. Not get into that here.

Individuality is what we call a whole persons sum of thoughts, actions and physical identity. Along with interactions with others. Because one person equals zero persons.
A person's identity in part is given through nature and in most part learned behavior, and that learned behavior is the most vital in forming the identifiable persons attributes.

We choose who we want to be. We first observe others and if we like what we see, we make it a part of our own personality. As we develop, our personality is basically formed through favoritism. If we like how someone talks we talk like them. Consciously and unconsciously, but we choose it and make it our own. This is why people who are around each other, usually act alike and this is why. Exposure usually lends itself too awakening.

We are constantly on the lookout for the perfect me. When I say me, I mean the person that has made it there before me that I can copy. The gold standard. We are in search of the perfect person that we can become. Problem is, we usually pick from a group of imperfect examples.
 

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Caveat re. remarks on definitions of the divine above, there is, of course, the via negativa in our tradition.

Returning to the OP, there is a mention of a search for "ontological definitions"[1] -can you explain further what is intended by this phrase?
________
[1]"So, I want to get away from these sorts of backwards-looking proposals entirely and look more at *ontological* definitions.
I did not mean to be too precise, philosophically, by using the term "ontological", but rather to contrast it with the terms behavioral and teleological (in a broad usage, too), which I wanted to avoid. To be far more precise, I have falsifiability in mind (cf, Karl Popper), which is one of my own philosophical "hallmarks". Many behavioral arguments are non-falsifiable, because a proponent can always claim the desired behavior will happen "potentially", or "in the future". Likewise, many teleological arguments are non-falsifiable on the same grounds: the teleology has exceptions, or conditions, or will still "ultimately" happen "in the future". So I want to avoid those sorts of traps and create a falsifiable (ie, testable) definition of human—if that testing requires some advanced level of technology, or spiritual insights, or something else, that is ok: it just needs some refutability.
 

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Met Kallistos Ware wrote an interesting and germane essay echoing the dimension of mystery in personhood ("I Love, Therefore I am," In Communion (Spring, 2009). An excerpt:

"Now there is a specific reason for this mysterious and indefinable character of human personhood. And this reason is given to us by St. Gregory of Nyssa, writing in the fourth century. “God,” says he, “is a mystery beyond all understanding.” We humans are formed in God’s image. The image should reproduce the characteristics of the archetype, of the original. So if God is beyond understanding, then the human person formed in God’s image is likewise beyond understanding. Precisely because God is a mystery, I too am a mystery.

If a Popperian falsifiability is the touchstone I suspect Met. Kallistos's and St. Gregory's remarks would qualify as unfalsifiable in the formal Popperian sense.

I have falsifiability in mind (cf, Karl Popper), which is one of my own philosophical "hallmarks".
I spent a semester in grad school on the T. Kuhn/Popper debate on rationality and the nature of science and have read most of Popper's works including works not specifically related to science like the two-volume The Open Society and its Enemies. In Popper's Realism and the Aim of Science which he wrote later in his career to clarify many of the issues raised in the years after his seminal work Conjectures and Refutations he affirmed his view that Falsifiability is a matter of pure logic; this, I think, raises an interesting conundrum: logic (e.g. the principle of non-contradiction) is unfalsifiable. To meaningfully falsify logic would require employing logic, which would be circular. Apologies for the brief digression; perhaps we can enjoy more detailed discussion of Popper in another thread some time.

 
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Bizzlebin

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Met Kallistos Ware wrote an interesting and germane essay echoing the dimension of mystery in personhood ("I Love, Therefore I am," In Communion (Spring, 2009). An excerpt:

"Now there is a specific reason for this mysterious and indefinable character of human personhood. And this reason is given to us by St. Gregory of Nyssa, writing in the fourth century. “God,” says he, “is a mystery beyond all understanding.” We humans are formed in God’s image. The image should reproduce the characteristics of the archetype, of the original. So if God is beyond understanding, then the human person formed in God’s image is likewise beyond understanding. Precisely because God is a mystery, I too am a mystery.

If a Popperian falsifiability is the touchstone I suspect Met. Kallistos's and St. Gregory's remarks would qualify as unfalsifiable in the formal Popperian sense.

I spent a semester in grad school on the T. Kuhn/Popper debate on rationality and the nature of science and have read most of Popper's works including works not specifically related to science like the two-volume The Open Society and its Enemies. In Popper's Realism and the Aim of Science which he wrote later in his career to clarify many of the issues raised in the years after his seminal work Conjectures and Refutations he affirmed his view that Falsifiability is a matter of pure logic; this, I think, raises an interesting conundrum: logic (e.g. the principle of non-contradiction) is unfalsifiable. To meaningfully falsify logic would require employing logic, which would be circular. Apologies for the brief digression; perhaps we can enjoy more detailed discussion of Popper in another thread some time.
Of course logic must be accepted on faith, but that only hits people who are trying to be "purely" logical. Here, the interest is more practical, and any systematic consistency (whether it is "formal" logic or something else) should do, as the point is to have a mutually-shared definition—and hopefully mutually-shared with God! In part, I'm trying to avoid conversations like this:

"My cat is a human."
"Uh, well, how?"
"It's a mystery!"

Met Kallistos's statement does not really seem directed towards creating a workable definition, as you note, but rather making sure that any definition does not fool us into thinking that there is no divine.
 

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Addendum/ Interesting you cite Popper as a touchstone as Sir Karl was a proponent of scientific rationality I wonder, if it's not too off topic, how you square that with your denials of scientific rationality elsewhere where you have remarked this was because Sociology of Knowledge was your touchstone. Popper and Frankfurt Sociology of Knowledge thesis are oil and water you know; incommensurable to borrow one of Kuhn's favorite terms. ;)
 

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Another excerpt from Met. Kallistos, "I Love, Therefore I am"

"When the Cappadocian Fathers in the fourth century are describing God, one of their key words is koinonia, meaning fellowship, communion, or relationship. As St. Basil says in his work on the Holy Spirit, “The union of the Godhead lies in the koinonia, the interrelationship, of the Persons.” So this then is what the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is saying: God is shared love, not self-love. God is openness, exchange, solidarity, self-giving.

Now, we are to apply all this to human persons made in the image of God. “God is love,” says St. John. And that great English prophet of the eighteenth century, William Blake, says, “Man is love.” God is love, not self-love but mutual love, and the same is true then of the human person. God is koinonia, relationship, communion.

So also is the human person in the Trinitarian image. God is openness, exchange, solidarity, self-giving. The same is true of the human person when living in a Trinitarian mode according to the divine image.

There’s a very helpful book by a British philosopher, John Macmurray, entitled Persons in Relationship, published in 1961. Macmurray insists that relationship is constitutive of personhood. He argues that there is no true person unless there are at least two persons communicating with each other. In other words, I need you in order to be myself. All this is true because God is Trinity.

From this it follows that the characteristic human word is not “I” but “we”.
 

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Of course logic must be accepted on faith
There is actually a problem too with the fideist account of reason “based on faith” or "accepted on faith." The problem is "any presupposition which is held by faith (in the Kierkegaardian sense of a sort of leap) is already tacitly presupposed as “meaningful” as opposed to “meaningless” before one considers whether to affirm it as a presupposition; it is tacitly presupposed as cognitively distinguishable from its own contradictory. Aristotle’s law of non-contradiction affirms something cannot be both A and non-A at the same time and in the same sense. Another way of saying this is that any meaningful act of presupposition tacitly presupposes rationality norms and their justificative decisiveness. So fideism cannot “ground” reason as a presupposition without already employing it to recognize there is even such a thing as a meaningful presupposition. The law of non-contradiction must already be operating prior to any meaningful act of presupposition or else that act of presupposition cannot be meaning-distinguished from it’s contradictory opposite."

Neither can rationality be proven, falsified, or held in a sort of meaningful Nietzschean suspicion unless it validly subsists prior to such modalities.

Phenomenologically we may say reason is a part of our humanity, but the death of foundationalism in philosophy, it turns out, also touches fideism.
 
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Bizzlebin

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Addendum/ Interesting you cite Popper as a touchstone as Sir Karl was a proponent of scientific rationality I wonder, if it's not too off topic, how you square that with your denials of scientific rationality elsewhere where you have remarked this was because Sociology of Knowledge was your touchstone. Popper and Frankfurt Sociology of Knowledge thesis are oil and water you know; incommensurable to borrow one of Kuhn's favorite terms.
To touch on this briefly, because falsifiability is not a matter of direct apprehension of Truth but of constructing a communal language (though Popper has something to say on that as well); I'm also the lead developer on a set of writing guidelines (similar to CMOS, APA, etc), so all these interests are not as opposed as they may seem. For example, a measurement of the speed of light is falsifiable, but the question has no meaning and/or usefulness until it's made relative to the speed of something else (even another photon!), to the meaning of "time" and "space" and "light", etc—falsifiability helps us to create systems and models that make sense to us, but does not "make" truth. Language, law, logic—all of these are tutors to little-"""t""" truth, but the Trinity Is Truth—Absolute Relational (Relative) Truth.

Aristotle’s law of non-contradiction affirms something cannot be both A and non-A at the same time and in the same sense. Another way of saying this is that any meaningful act of presupposition tacitly presupposes rationality norms and their justificative decisiveness. So fideism cannot “ground” reason as a presupposition without already employing it to recognize there is even such a thing as a meaningful presupposition. The law of non-contradiction must already be operating prior to any meaningful act of presupposition or else that act of presupposition cannot be meaning-distinguished from it’s contradictory opposite."
That itself presupposes that faith is systematic, or that the process of "decision" is not already at least partly outside the realm of faith (to use the language of St Maximos, it's now in the gnomic will); I have little reason to think that faith is systematic at all, as far as it matters from our perspective, but rather that it (along with language and logic) can be entered into (not as mere object, but as relation).

There’s a very helpful book by a British philosopher, John Macmurray, entitled Persons in Relationship, published in 1961. Macmurray insists that relationship is constitutive of personhood. He argues that there is no true person unless there are at least two persons communicating with each other. In other words, I need you in order to be myself. All this is true because God is Trinity.
Back to the OP, what would stop 3 cats in a room from being understood as 3 persons? But I don't want to get too far into the definition of person (and whether there are human persons at all), so maybe I'd rephrase that as asking if those 3 cats, inasmuch as they are in a relationship, are human beings? As with the Met Kallistos quote, I'm not sure this line of thinking will lead to any constructed definition of human (or cat, or anything else), much less a predictive one, though it is not without use for answering other questions.
 

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Bizzlebin said:
I want to get away from these sorts of backwards-looking proposals entirely and look more at *ontological* definitions, definitions that apply to a human regardless

...to be too precise, philosophically, by using the term "ontological" ...to be far more precise, I have falsifiability in mind "I have falsifiability in mind (cf, Karl Popper), which is one of my own philosophical "hallmarks"

...directed towards creating a workable definition
If Popper is your touchstone in any sense the fact is the whole "quest for a definition procedure" was a complete anathema to Popper. That is the very opposite of anything that can reasonably be called Popperian.

Cf. Popper:

"As we have seen science does not use definitions in order to determine the meaning of its terms, but only in order to introduce handy shorthand labels. And it does not depend on definitions; all definitions can be omitted without loss to the information imparted. It follows from this that in science, all the terms that are really needed must be undefined terms [italics Popper's]. How then do the sciences make sure of the meaning of their terms? Various replies to this question have been suggested, but I do not think that any of them are satisfactory. Aristotelianism and related philosophies have told us for such a long time how important it is to get a precise knowledge of the meaning of our terms that we are all inclined to believe it. And we continue to cling to this creed in spite of the unquestionable fact that philosophy, which for twenty centuries has worried about the meaning of its terms, is not only full of verbalism, but also apallingly vague and ambiguous while a science like physics which worries hardly at all about terms and their meaning, but about facts instead, has achieved great precision. This, surely should be taken as indicating that, under Aristotelian influence, the importance of the meaning of terms has been grossly exaggerated. But I think that it indicates even more. For not only does this concentration on the problem of meaning fail to establish precision; it is itself the main source of vagueness, ambiguity and confusion. In science, we take care that the statements we make should never depend on the meaning of our terms. Even where the terms are defined, we never try to derive any information from the definition or to base any argument upon it. This is why our terms make so little trouble. We do not overburden them. We try to attach to them as little weight as possible. We do not take their 'meaning' too seriously. We are always conscious that our terms are a little vague, and we reach precision not by reducing their penumbra of vagueness, but rather by keeping well within it, by carefully phrasing our sentences in such a way that the possible shades of meaning of our terms do not matter. That is how we avoid quarreling about words."

Sir Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, vol 2, Hegel, Marx, and the Aftermath, pp. 48-49


Incommensurability strike two for you, I think.
 
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"That itself presupposes that faith is systematic"

No it doesn't. As Karl Barth remarked systematics is the enemy of true theology; his remark I take is quite Orthodox.
 

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If Popper is your touchstone in any sense the fact is the whole "quest for a definition procedure" was a complete anathema to Popper. That is the very opposite of anything that can reasonably be called Popperian.

Cf. Popper:

"As we have seen science does not use definitions in order to determine the meaning of its terms, but only in order to introduce handy shorthand labels. And it does not depend on definitions; all definitions can be omitted without loss to the information imparted. It follows from this that in science, all the terms that are really needed must be undefined terms [italics Popper's]. How then do the sciences make sure of the meaning of their terms? Various replies to this question have been suggested, but I do not think that any of them are satisfactory. Aristotelianism and related philosophies have told us for such a long time how important it is to get a precise knowledge of the meaning of our terms that we are all inclined to believe it. And we continue to cling to this creed in spite of the unquestionable fact that philosophy, which for twenty centuries has worried about the meaning of its terms, is not only full of verbalism, but also apallingly vague and ambiguous while a science like physics which worries hardly at all about terms and their meaning, but about facts instead, has achieved great precision. This, surely should be taken as indicating that, under Aristotelian influence, the importance of the meaning of terms has been grossly exaggerated. But I think that it indicates even more. For not only does this concentration on the problem of meaning fail to establish precision; it is itself the main source of vagueness, ambiguity and confusion. In science, we take care that the statements we make should never depend on the meaning of our terms. Even where the terms are defined, we never try to derive any information from the definition or to base any argument upon it. This is why our terms make so little trouble. We do not overburden them. We try to attach to them as little weight as possible. We do not take their 'meaning' too seriously. We are always conscious that our terms are a little vague, and we reach precision not by reducing their penumbra of vagueness, but rather by keeping well within it, by carefully phrasing our sentences in such a way that the possible shades of meaning of our terms do not matter. That is how we avoid quarreling about words."

Sir Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, vol 2, Hegel, Marx, and the Aftermath, pp. 48-49

Incommensurability strike two for you, I think.
An interesting quote, which contrasts with his other writing on the philosophy of mathematic—in which definition is central. And since I'm not stuck on Aristotle—and especially not the "verbalism" which is so common here on the forum, which Popper's own quote here seems to fall into in trying to verbalize his (legitimate) discomfort with word games—I'm not sure how this applies in the case where it is the definitions themselves which need to be investigated. It is probable that we have 2 different readings of Popper. In any case, I'm interested in falsifiability here more generally (of which Popper is a well-known, but not the only, proponent of—note that while I brought up his name, I do not feel obliged to defend him or his ideas as if they were his private possessions and I were a personal follower), as it pertains to creating a testable definition with predictive power. If Popper is just going to be a distraction here, then let's let it go.

"That itself presupposes that faith is systematic"

No it doesn't. As Karl Barth remarked systematics is the enemy of true theology; his remark I take is quite Orthodox.
Not as familiar with Barth, but if it helps us get towards answering the OP, feel free to share more—keeping in mind we're focusing on investigating the created side of things here, not the uncreated.
 

xariskai

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Bizzlebin wrote:
" I want to get away from these sorts of backwards-looking proposals entirely and look more at *ontological* definitions."

What's with the *asterisks* ??
Asked what you mean by *ontological* definitions (defining the purpose of the thread in the OP) and suddenly we have:

Bizzlebin wrote
[not intending]...to be too precise, philosophically, by using the term "ontological" ...to be far more precise, I have falsifiability in mind (cf, Karl Popper), which is one of my own philosophical "hallmarks"

So you're not after *ontological* definitions, (with asterisks) but "ontological" definitions (in quotations) -but not in any precise or philosophical sense of ontological...

No. Your precise sense of the definitions you are after is this:

Bizzlebin wrote:
..to be far more precise, I have falsifiability in mind (cf, Karl Popper), which is one of my own philosophical "hallmarks"

Problem: the whole "quest for a definition procedure" was a complete anathema to Popper[1]

Bizzlebin wrote:
"An interesting quote, which contrasts with his other writing...
...It is probable that we have 2 different readings of Popper. In any case,"

Well, NO. it is not an instance of a Popper reading at odds with Popper in any manner whatsoever; it is something axiomatic for him. It is a cornerstone for him of his falsification method he proposed as an alternative to "definition quests" ala centuries of philosophical thought and in contrast to them, a cornerstone which runs like a spine throughout all of his writings.

So you are looking in the first instance for definitions (*ontological* but not, precisely "ontological")

But" to be precise" your touchstone is falsificationism which methodologically is diametrically opposed supposing there is any such thing as an "ontological definition."

Bizzlebin wrote:
...to be far more precise, I have falsifiability in mind (cf, Karl Popper), which is one of my own philosophical "hallmarks"

Cf. Popper, you say, but not Popper as such, no.

Bizzlebin wrote:
"In any case, I'm interested in falsifiability here more generally (of which Popper is a well-known, but not the only, proponent of—note that while I brought up his name, I do not feel obliged to defend him or his ideas"

So some contemporary falsificationism rejecting Popper's seminal and pointed antipathy to questing for ontological definitions perhaps? An oxymoron that doesn't exist -unless it is being invented in the thread now.

This is almost as confusing as your frequent reference to your commitment to the Sociology of Knowledge school which regards verisimilitude (Popper's truth without a capital T) as a myth on the one hand and questing for falsificationism and (elsewhere) evidence on the other. If there is no verisimilitude there is no logic of falsification.

What a muddled mess of incoherence.

_________________________
[1]Popper:
"As we have seen science does not use definitions in order to determine the meaning of its terms, but only in order to introduce handy shorthand labels. And it does not depend on definitions; all definitions can be omitted without loss to the information imparted. It follows from this that in science, all the terms that are really needed must be undefined terms [italics Popper's]. How then do the sciences make sure of the meaning of their terms? Various replies to this question have been suggested, but I do not think that any of them are satisfactory. Aristotelianism and related philosophies have told us for such a long time how important it is to get a precise knowledge of the meaning of our terms that we are all inclined to believe it. And we continue to cling to this creed in spite of the unquestionable fact that philosophy, which for twenty centuries has worried about the meaning of its terms, is not only full of verbalism, but also apallingly vague and ambiguous while a science like physics which worries hardly at all about terms and their meaning, but about facts instead, has achieved great precision. This, surely should be taken as indicating that, under Aristotelian influence, the importance of the meaning of terms has been grossly exaggerated. But I think that it indicates even more. For not only does this concentration on the problem of meaning fail to establish precision; it is itself the main source of vagueness, ambiguity and confusion. In science, we take care that the statements we make should never depend on the meaning of our terms. Even where the terms are defined, we never try to derive any information from the definition or to base any argument upon it. This is why our terms make so little trouble. We do not overburden them. We try to attach to them as little weight as possible. We do not take their 'meaning' too seriously. We are always conscious that our terms are a little vague, and we reach precision not by reducing their penumbra of vagueness, but rather by keeping well within it, by carefully phrasing our sentences in such a way that the possible shades of meaning of our terms do not matter. That is how we avoid quarreling about words."
Sir Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, vol 2, Hegel, Marx, and the Aftermath, pp. 48-49
 

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How about being male and female? (Genesis 1:27 "So God created humankind ...male and female he created them")

Can that still constitute being human in the sense God intended in an age of the unbinary? Bizzlebin?
 
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LizaSymonenko

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A human is a being created by God in the womb of a woman, conceived by a man and woman.

A human is a trinity. They are composed of 1. flesh 2. soul 3. spirit.

That is a human.

Now, when does a human equate to humane... is a different question.

Being humane is being the way God created us to be - loving, kind, compassionate. For when we started losing all these aspects, He incarnated to remind us once and for all what we were designed to do, and per that design, those blueprints, that owner's manual... if we followed it.... we would live our best lives.

However, we stray from this. Humans have decided they do not need their Creator.... they've started going their own way. It is like taking a car and instead of filling the tank with the suggested fuel, they fill it with some other fuel that makes the engine sputter and smoke... They opt to not change the oil in the motor... the radiator is bubbling over.... but, they continue on... because they choose not to follow the manual... but, do do things there own way.

God gave us free-will.... and so many of us have taken that free will and chosen to do our own thing in the name of "freedom".
....freedom to have sex, freedom to be greedy, freedom to be obnoxious, freedom to be addicted, to be drunk, to be high, to be....

While if fact... all these supposed "freedoms"... do not render us truly "free"... but, enslave us to these vices.

We become slaves to addiction, slaves to sex, slaves to drugs... we crave them and are dependent on them for our supposed happiness... we willfully use our freedom to enslave ourselves.

True freedom is only found in God, and through Him and His teachings... He designed us, He made us what we are... and therefore, He is the one who has the right to instruct and guide us, and He is the one we should listen to.

...and in being what God design us to be... we display our humanity... for we love our neighbors, we are kind, forgiving, compassionate, and merciful. We feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick.... we simply love... because that is what we were designed for.
 

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Also @ Bizzlebin, if you are requiring falsifiability as a touchstone re. what is human...

What would falsify your (our) claim that sharing the divine image is part of humanity in your view?

Or if nothing, if this is exempt from your otherwise operational insistance upon a criterion of falsifiability, what demarcates things exempt from at criterion from things that are not?
 

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Didn't someone above write something about "verbalism" and how common it is on the forum? Not sure what was meant by that but if it is anything approximating logorrhea or prolixity, then this thread is certainly not lacking :). It seems to me in my ignorant simplicity that maybe defining what is "human" shouldn't necessarily require such verbosity. But, what do I know?? (Not much, it seems :D.)
 

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A human is a being created by God in the womb of a woman, conceived by a man and woman.
Without getting into the historical questions of Genesis: 1–3, the Incarnation of Jesus Christ should be enough to disprove the need for 2 human parents. We are also hurtling towards growing human bodies in vitro (if we haven't already—I don't keep up with biology as closely as, say, rocket science)—we already do it with specific cells and tissues. So while you've described what is (AFAIK) the most common current method of making new humans, that is a different question from the definition of human.

A human is a trinity. They are composed of 1. flesh 2. soul 3. spirit.
This is a common model in the Fathers, but it is not sufficient to answer the question without more detail. Animals have bodies. And they have souls (though St Gregory Palamas notes their soul is energetic rather than essential—not sure how to test that). And the Holy Spirit works in them, too (for example, one translation of the 3rd anavathmoi at Matins in Tone 2: "The Holy Spirit is the element of life and honor, for as God he empowers all creatures and preserves them in the Father and the Son."). So what distinguishes (in a way that we can test) the body, soul, and spirit of an animal from that of a human?
 

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Didn't someone above write something about "verbalism" and how common it is on the forum? Not sure what was meant by that but if it is anything approximating logorrhea or prolixity, then this thread is certainly not lacking :). It seems to me in my ignorant simplicity that maybe defining what is "human" shouldn't necessarily require such verbosity. But, what do I know?? (Not much, it seems :D.)
Yes, I was hoping for something that could fit in a sentence, but really anything will do—if you've got any leads, feel free to post them!
 

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See post #5 above.
Oh yeah, I meant to mention something funny about that one: it reminds me of the (in)famous Justice Potter Stewart quip—though in that case, I don't think a consistent definition is even remotely possible!
 

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So what distinguishes (in a way that we can test) the body, soul, and spirit of an animal from that of a human?
There is no way to test such a thing. Maybe the answer to your question is a very simple one, rather than one that needs to be analyzed or philosophized to nth degree. Maybe it's best to just take God's word for it, that mankind is humankind. A human has an immortal soul and from what I've read, the Saints say an animal does not have an immortal soul. Out eternal-ness makes us human and our being made in His image regardless of any of our other abilities or advancements or lack therof. Whether we become "truly human" through theosis is really all that seems to matter. We can be human but act like the evil one or a rabid animal. Not to open a can of new worms, but alternatively, animals can reflect God commemeded qualities more than us humans, to our shame.

"Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest. How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep?" Proverbs 6

“A dog is better than I am, for he has love and does not judge.” St. Xanthias
 

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Oh yeah, I meant to mention something funny about that one: it reminds me of the (in)famous Justice Potter Stewart quip—though in that case, I don't think a consistent definition is even remotely possible!
Yes, I had that in mind, too :). But, in all seriousness, unless and until dissuaded otherwise, I will hold to that position. And, apart from philosophizing and theologizing, is a "consistent" definition of what is "human" necessary? I guess there might be people, probably socio- or psychopaths, who wouldn't know "human" when they see it, but I imagine most other people would, would they not?
 

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Yes, I had that in mind, too :).
Yeah, ironic that you should bring it up since I just had to deal with some legislation earlier today regarding that, including how it relates to children. Because there is no consistent test, the legislation was indefinitely tabled—no way to pass it and enforce it—and the previous law is now set for repeal. With that can of worms opened up, I've been scrambling to find another way to protect the kids.

But, in all seriousness, unless and until dissuaded otherwise, I will hold to that position. And, apart from philosophizing and theologizing, is a "consistent" definition of what is "human" necessary? I guess there might be people, probably socio- or psychopaths, who wouldn't know "human" when they see it, but I imagine most other people would, would they not?
Apart from saying that we have to deal with psychopaths and very unfortunate situations (eg, Trolley Problem), I don't want to get into my own motives, as that is one of the common devolutions of OC.net threads—not your intent, I don't believe, but we're not alone here. I will note that the definition has incredible significance legally, for end-of-life questions, for genetic engineering, for questions regarding Heaven and Hell (even touching apokatastasis), and much more. And because I believe that the orthodox Christian faith touches every aspect of our lives, this laundry list of deep and disparate connections makes me very certain that, even if it is a *hard* question, it is a *right* question.
 

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Yeah, ironic that you should bring it up since I just had to deal with some legislation earlier today regarding that, including how it relates to children. Because there is no consistent test, the legislation was indefinitely tabled—no way to pass it and enforce it—and the previous law is now set for repeal. With that can of worms opened up, I've been scrambling to find another way to protect the kids.



Apart from saying that we have to deal with psychopaths and very unfortunate situations (eg, Trolley Problem), I don't want to get into my own motives, as that is one of the common devolutions of OC.net threads—not your intent, I don't believe, but we're not alone here. I will note that the definition has incredible significance legally, for end-of-life questions, for genetic engineering, for questions regarding Heaven and Hell (even touching apokatastasis), and much more. And because I believe that the orthodox Christian faith touches every aspedarkness r lives, this laundry list of deep and disparate connections makes me very certain that, even if it is a *hard* question, it is a *right* question.
But in a way, isn't the only answer and solution to this question a spiritual one? Those pro-abortionists are in spiritual darkness, same for the science of bio-engineering designer babies, euthanizers etc. No answer or proof will disuade them except for God enlightening their darkness and even that is beyond our control except for intercessory prayer.
 

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@Bizzlebin I applaud your efforts at wanting to protect innocent lives especially regarding legislation. I am so pleasantly shocked, that in the midst of societies decline into increasing moral and sexual debauchery, especially in these crazy recent years, we are also seeing overturning of abortion laws and stricter abortion changes. It is such a surprise and such a breath of fresh air that we are even moving in that direction, especially when it seems that the world is going to hell in a handbasket at supersonic speeds. It makes me feel like there is some hope for us.
 

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Yeah, ironic that you should bring it up since I just had to deal with some legislation earlier today regarding that, including how it relates to children. Because there is no consistent test, the legislation was indefinitely tabled—no way to pass it and enforce it—and the previous law is now set for repeal. With that can of worms opened up, I've been scrambling to find another way to protect the kids.
Kudos for your efforts! May God grant you success.


Apart from saying that we have to deal with psychopaths and very unfortunate situations (eg, Trolley Problem), I don't want to get into my own motives, as that is one of the common devolutions of OC.net threads—not your intent, I don't believe, but we're not alone here. I will note that the definition has incredible significance legally, for end-of-life questions, for genetic engineering, for questions regarding Heaven and Hell (even touching apokatastasis), and much more. And because I believe that the orthodox Christian faith touches every aspect of our lives, this laundry list of deep and disparate connections makes me very certain that, even if it is a *hard* question, it is a *right* question.
I'm not really sure how to respond to this. Like I said earlier, this is really above my pay-grade. Are there not already existing definitions of "human"? If so, what are they? Is there uncertainty as to what "human" is? We certainly seem to behave as though we know what "human" is or what "not human" is and what "inhuman" is.
 

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In a sense echoing Polanyi's seminal "we know more than we can tell" Karl Popper emphasizes one crux of what makes us human is not admissible of abstraction, but is "the particular unique and concrete" what RC philosopher of science/physicist the late Fr. Stanley Jaki would have insisted is a singularity. Another way of saying this is that each human being is irreducibly unique, and this must/does elude any reductionist scientific analysis:

"...the irrationalist not only tries to rationalize what cannot be rationalized, but also gets hold of the wrong end of the stick altogether. For it is the particular unique and concrete individual, which cannot be approached by rational methods, and not the abstract universal. Science can describe general types of landscape, for example, or of man, but it can never exhaust one single individual landscape, or one single individual man. The universal, the typical, is not only the domain of reason, but it is also largely the product of reason, in so far as it is the product of scientific abstraction. But the unique individual and his unique actions can never be fully rationalized. And it appears to be just this irrational realm of unique individuality which makes human relations important. Most people would feel, for example, that what makes their lives worth living would largely be destroyed if they themselves, and their lives, were in no sense unique but in all and every respect typical of a class of people, so that they repeated exactly all the actions and experiences of all other men who belong to this class. It is the uniqueness of our experiences which , in this sense, makes our lives worth living, the unique experience of a landscape, of a sunset, of the expression of a human face. But since the day of Plato it has been characteristic... [transferring] our unique relations to individuals to a different field, namely to the field of abstract universals, a field which properly belongs to the province of science." -Sir Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Vol 2, p. 245.

Any quest to measure should hold dear there are some things numbers cannot measure. To be human is to be irreducibly unique. To the extent it does not it becomes inhuman because any reductionism is less than human even if it legitimately frames what is human aspectively. This insight, I think, may be correlated to theological intuition to preserve the apophatic in light of the cataphatic in theology -a mirror of our Orthodoxy. Insofar as every human has this dimension of the irreducible and apophatic it is in this very trait, I think, a mirror and image of God.
 
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